What is the real flavor of Mountain Dew?

Mountain Dew is one of the most popular sodas in the United States, known for its bright green color and unique citrus flavor. But what exactly gives Mountain Dew its distinctive taste? The ingredients list on a can or bottle of Mountain Dew lists ingredients like carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, concentrated orange juice, citric acid, natural flavors, sodium benzoate, caffeine, sodium citrate, erythorbic acid, gum arabic, calcium disodium EDTA, brominated vegetable oil, and yellow 5. While this seems like a long list, there are really only a few key ingredients that make up the signature Mountain Dew flavor.

Citrus flavors

The primary flavoring ingredients in Mountain Dew are concentrated orange juice and lemon juice. These citrus juices give Mountain Dew its zesty, citrusy taste. Orange juice concentrate adds a bright, tangy orange flavor while lemon juice brings a tart, acidic bite. The combination of oranges and lemons form the citrus backbone of Mountain Dew.

In addition to actual orange and lemon juice, Mountain Dew also contains natural citrus flavors. These proprietary blends of lemon, lime, and orange oils amplify the citrus taste and create the bold flavor punch that Mountain Dew is known for.

Sugar and corn syrup

Like most sodas, sugar plays a major role in the taste profile of Mountain Dew. In the form of high fructose corn syrup, sugar balances out the acidity of the citrus juices and provides sweetness. The high amounts of sugar and corn syrup give Mountain Dew its signature sweet yet tart flavor. The balance between the sweet and the sour is what makes Mountain Dew stand out from other citrus sodas.

Fun fact: the original formula of Mountain Dew in the 1940s contained actual sugar rather than corn syrup. The switch to corn syrup came about in the 1980s as it was cheaper than cane sugar. However, some diehard Mountain Dew fans insist the original sugar version had a cleaner, crisper taste.


In addition to sugar, caffeine is another key ingredient in the taste of Mountain Dew. Each 12-ounce can contains 54 mg of caffeine from plant sources. This caffeine provides a subtle bitter, stimulating effect that balances the sweet citrus flavors. The caffeine adds another layer of flavor and gives Mountain Dew a pick-me-up quality that keeps drinkers coming back for more.

Other flavorings

Mountain Dew also contains natural flavorings like ginger, pineapple, and blackberry. These flavorings enhance the citrus taste and make it unique from other lemon-lime sodas. A combination of citrus oils, fruit essences, spices, and herbs come together to create the one-of-a-kind Mountain Dew flavor.

Sodium citrate is another interesting ingredient in the Mountain Dew formula. It helps enhance and extend the citrus flavors, making them stronger and longer-lasting on the palate.

The salty, savory taste

If you’ve ever noticed a slightly salty, savory taste in Mountain Dew, that comes from the addition of sodium benzoate. This preservative chemical compound has a subtle salty and umami flavor. When combined with the sweet and sour citrus flavors, it creates a more complex, well-rounded taste profile.

The sodium benzoate may also make Mountain Dew more thirst-quenching and drinkable. Studies have shown that low levels of salt enhance the thirst-quenching properties of sodas due to the electrolytes.

The secret formula

While the key ingredients described above are all listed on the label, the exact formula and ratios of juices, sweeteners, and flavorings that make up Mountain Dew are a well-kept secret. The Citrus Blast flavor concentrate that contains the essence of Mountain Dew is proprietary to PepsiCo and produced at a handful of secret locations. Only a few select employees have access to the entire formula.

This secrecy around the Mountain Dew recipe has naturally led to speculation, rumors, and myths about its ingredients. Some urban legends allege that Mountain Dew contains things like orange juice with furniture polish or roadkill. However, PepsiCo insists that the only ingredients are natural flavors and chemicals approved by the FDA.

The “natural flavors” mystery

The “natural flavors” listed on Mountain Dew’s ingredients has led to much consumer speculation. Food and beverage companies are not required to disclose the specific contents of their proprietary flavor formulas. The exact makeup of these secret blends of natural and artificial favors is unknown.

According to Pepsi, Mountain Dew’s natural citrus flavors do contain some oils from orange peels. Some theorize that the natural flavors may also contain juices or oils from fruits beyond orange and lemon, such as pineapple, mango, and berry blends. These kinds of tropical fruit flavors might help enhance and round out the citrus taste.

How has the formula changed over the years?

While the core citrus flavor has stayed the same, the formula and ingredients in Mountain Dew have been tweaked and reformulated several times since its origins in the 1940s. Here are some of the changes over the decades:

Decade Formula changes
1940s Original formula used real cane sugar as the sweetener
1960s Switched from cane sugar to high fructose corn syrup
1970s Caffeine added
1980s More citrus oils added for stronger flavor
2000s Reduced caffeine to 54 mg per serving
2010s BVO (brominated vegetable oil) removed

These various tweaks over the decades have increased the citrus punch, balanced the sweetness, and amplified the classic Mountain Dew flavor profile to create the modern version we know today.

Natural vs artificial flavors

Mountain Dew has long been plagued by rumors that it contains artificial flavors. However, since 2012, PepsiCo has consistently labeled all the flavors in Mountain Dew as “natural.”

According to PepsiCo, this means the flavors are derived from plant or fruit-based sources. However, the exact breakdown of specific natural flavor ingredients remains undisclosed.

Critics argue that consumers tend to perceive natural flavors as healthier and closer to the real thing. However, natural flavors are complex proprietary formulas that may still contain chemical solvents and preservatives.

It’s likely that Mountain Dew’s natural flavors today contain both natural flavor compounds like oils and juices as well as artificial lab-created compounds. But the ratios and origins remain part of the secret recipe.

Why does the ingredients list change?

Mountain Dew drinkers may notice the ingredients list seeming to change slightly from time to time. While the core ingredients have remained the same for decades, the order they are listed in may vary from one batch to another. Regulations require ingredients be listed in order from most to least predominant by weight. So why does the order seem to shift around?

There are a few reasons an ingredient list may be rearranged:

  • Slight variations in the production process from one batch to another
  • Tweaking the exact amounts of ingredients added
  • Changing suppliers or sources of ingredients
  • Updates to packaging equipment

Mountain Dew likely sources its ingredients from multiple suppliers. So a new batch may contain a slightly different weight ratio depending on that supply chain. While the changes are subtle, they can be enough to reorder ingredients on the list.

Why does Mountain Dew taste different abroad?

Fans of Mountain Dew have noted that soda seems to taste noticeably different in other countries versus the United States formula. There are a few reasons for these taste variances:

  • Other countries use real cane sugar instead of corn syrup as the sweetener. This gives it a cleaner, crisper, less syrupy taste.
  • The source fruits and flavorings may come from different geographic regions. For example, the orange juice concentrate likely comes from Brazilian or Mexican oranges in other countries rather than Florida oranges.
  • The water source affects the soda’s taste, so Mountain Dew will taste different depending on local water mineral composition.
  • Countries have different regulations on food additives and preservatives that may require recipe adjustments.

So while the core citrus taste remains similar, factors like sweeteners, fruits, water, and regulations result in noticeable regional taste differences.

Imitations and spin-offs

Due to Mountain Dew’s popularity, many competitors and generic brands have tried to imitate it over the years. Most knock-offs have attempted to cop the neon green color and citrus taste profile. However, most imitators tend to go overboard on citric acid resulting in an imbalanced and artificial flavor.

No generic has been able to perfectly replicate Mountain Dew’s proprietary flavor formula. Even subscriptions services like SodaStream that allow adding custom flavorings can’t quite achieve the exact same taste.

Within the PepsiCo brand empire, there have been numerous official Mountain Dew spin-offs and variations featuring tweaked flavors. However, the original citrus flavor remains the most popular.

Common Mountain Dew spin-offs

Variety Flavors
Diet Mountain Dew Lower calorie version. Less sweet due to artificial sweeteners.
Code Red Cherry flavor added
Voltage Raspberry and ginseng flavor
Livewire Orange and tangerine flavor


When it comes down to it, the unique and addicting taste of Mountain Dew comes from its top secret formula combining concentrated citrus juices, proprietary flavorings, sugar, and caffeine. The key is getting the perfect balance to achieve a flavor that is citrusy and sweet yet also complex and savory.

Imitators have tried and failed for decades to clone Mountain Dew’s distinctive flavor profile. With such secrecy guarding the exact ingredients, we may never know the full story behind what gives this neon soda its addictive taste. But that air of mystery is part of what has made it an enigmatic fan favorite for generations of drinkers in search of a citrus kick.

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